DIABETIC RETINOPATHY: THE SILENT STEALER OF SIGHT

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Sue E. Lowe OD, FCOVD, FAAO, is a member and past president of the Wyoming Optometric Association and among the 18,000 doctors listed on the Think About Your Eyes online locator. Think About Your Eyes is a nationwide public awareness initiative promoting the importance of an annual eye exam and overall vision health. First Vision Media Group (publisher of Optometric Office) supports Think About Your Eyes as a media partner and provides space for this monthly guest editorial.

Every day, 3,835 Americans are diagnosed with diabetes. Over time, many of those patients will develop diabetic retinopathy, at least at the non-proliferative stage.  Without treatment, many of those progress to the more serious level of proliferative retinopathy, with possible retinal detachment or vitreous hemorrhaging.

Diabetic retinopathy currently affects over 8 million Americans””yet 50% don’t know they have it! As an optometrist this is both frightening and frustrating, because with early detection and treatment, we can reduce the risk of blindness by 95%.

The problem is one of circumstances””we all lead busy lives, with many things competing for our time. Diabetic retinopathy can sneak up on someone, in most cases exhibiting no symptoms at all until well advanced. If a person is not experiencing any major problems with their vision, and have no idea they may have a hidden but escalating condition like diabetic retinopathy, the tendency is to go on about their lives. A simple comprehensive eye exam could detect the presence of retinopathy and highlight the need for treatment.

Again, as individual doctors, how do we communicate this message to the general population and get people in for a regular exam?

In our office, we talk to patients of all ages and say, “To keep your eyes healthy, keep your body healthy with good diet, nutrition and exercise.” We also stress the need for annual exams. Beyond that, we support the Think About Your Eyes campaign and the initiative’s national TV and radio advertising that simply tells the public to make an appointment for their annual exam.

Here in Wyoming our state association pays for a basic listing on the ThinkAboutYourEyes.com website practice locator for every member of the Wyoming Optometric Association. Our office pays a small amount per year for an upgraded listing so we can add more information about our practice and our services, and we get higher visibility with patients in our locale who are searching for a doctor. Since Think About Your Eyes launched nationally, over three million people have visited the website.

Between what we do to educate our patients and what Think About Your Eyes is doing with its prime-time TV and radio advertising, we can educate Americans on the need for better eye health and vision care and find the patients who, while they think they can see just fine, have asymptomatic conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.

With earlier diagnosis and treatment, we can prevent many of these patients from progressing to proliferative retinopathy, and we can help maintain their healthy vision and quality of life.

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